Will Nancy Pelosi continue to make the House her home for much longer? Two recent events give one pause for thought.
During a press conference in June, Pelosi assailed the president’s policy of separating children from their undocumented parents at the border. She said matter-of-factly, “I just don’t even know why there aren’t uprisings all over the country, and maybe there will be when people realize that this is a policy that they [Republicans] defend.”
Uprising is an extremely potent word. Even for those who don’t support the president’s stance on immigration. Protests would have been more appropriate. Indeed, civilized marches in opposition to the president’s policies have been going on throughout the country for weeks. But to use language so inflammatory only further fuels the right and does a disservice to us all.
Pelosi has been called the Republican Party’s greatest fundraiser because of her stridency and the positions she’s taken over the years. Most are critical to maintaining the well-being of the middle and working class; on affordable healthcare, women’s health and reproductive rights, a living wage, fighting tax policies favorable to the rich and big business, supporting regulations that protect the American people from abuses by banks and Wall Street, as well as legislation to combat environmental hazards. She argues her case vigorously and clings to beliefs she feels are just.
Pelosi has long been vilified by the right. She’s a tough political infighter who knows how to keep members of her party in line and push her legislative agenda through — alternating between finesse and intimidation of fellow House members. And there’s the rub. Many of those who have long supported Pelosi are coming to the realization that her time has passed; that she is a relic of another era. An era when politics was more collegial and House members from both parties were inclined to work collaboratively despite ideological differences; and when it came to Pelosi, there were many.
As liberal as Nancy Pelosi is, however, there are an increasing number of Democrats who don’t believe she is left-leaning enough. That she has taken positions far more moderate than most Republicans would have the American public believe. It’s been argued that she and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), in their desire to cut deals, have turned their backs on the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party and those who affiliate with it, including Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), who is Vice Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Imagine that. Nancy Pelosi. Too moderate?
Which brings us to the second event. A shift more seismic than Pelosi’s verbal misstep: the stunning defeat of Pelosi protege and presumptive successor Rep. Joe Crowley, a 10-term incumbent from New York. Crowley, the fourth highest ranking Democrat in the House, was overwhelmingly trounced by 28-year-old neophyte Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose only previous exposure to politics was as an organizer for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Crowley is a product of old-school Democratic Party machine politics. Ocasio-Cortez ran as a Democratic Socialist.
Ocasio-Cortez ran a grassroots campaign on bread and butter issues in her largely Latino district: putting people to work, Medicare and higher education for all, affordable housing, tax reform to help middle and low-income families, and the abolition of ICE (not even Pelosi has called for that). Crowley spent more time in D.C. than his district and spent significantly more money on his campaign. Ocasio-Cortez, who relied on social media to get her message out, lives in the district and is one of the faces of its changing demographics.
Clearly, an increasing number of Democrats want something more than the establishment is offering, perhaps something more radical. That’s not necessarily a winning strategy in the short-term if they hope to win back Congress come November. Then again, moderation doesn’t appear to be working for them either.
For the Democratic Party to thrive, it needs to commit to its core beliefs and principles, roll the dice, and take the chance that it may take a decade before the electorate at large is ready to embrace their message. Under the party’s present leadership, the odds of that happening sooner than later are almost nil. And given the direction the current administration is heading the country in, a decade’s wait may be too late.
One thing’s for certain. For the Democratic Party to rediscover itself, Nancy Pelosi must go. And that’s something an increasing number of Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on.
Blair Bess is a Los Angeles-based television writer, producer, and columnist. He edits the online blog Soaggragated.com, and can be reached at BBess.firstname.lastname@example.org.